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Let’s pray as we come before the Lord in His Word.
Our gracious heavenly Father, we need thee every hour, and surely I need your help that I might preach Your Word with faithfulness, with boldness, with clarity. We are so grateful that the Word of God is not bound and that the Spirit of God is at work whenever Your Word is faithfully proclaimed, and so our prayer is that it would be faithfully proclaimed from this pulpit now in this moment, and my prayer is that by the power of Your Spirit, Your people wherever they are would hear a better sermon than the one that I’m about to preach, and You would convict us, You would encourage us, You would give us just the word that we need to hear this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hopefully you have a Bible nearby, or you can use a device or grab one from your shelf and would encourage you to turn to Ephesians, chapter 6, and you’re going to want to have a Bible not only for the passage which I’ll read in just a moment, but because we’re going to look at some other passages in Ephesians and at the end of the sermon hopefully look at a few other places in the New Testament. It’s always good to have a Bible with you because the only reason you ultimately have to listen to someone like me is in so far as I am preaching from God’s Word. That’s the real authority. So hopefully you have a Bible you can follow along.
This morning we begin a short series on the armor of God from Ephesians chapter 6. Lord willing, the first week in April we will back on our regular preaching schedule here at Christ Covenant and we’ve missed a few weeks and we’re just going to trust the Lord’s providence and we’re going to miss those and not try to make them up, but be back in Nehemiah in the evening and in John leading into Holy Week in the morning, but for these two sermons this Lord’s day and then for two sermons next Sunday, we are going to be looking at this famous section from Ephesians chapter 6.
Now why do this four-part series on spiritual warfare? I need to be clear. It’s not because I think that we fight the Corona virus per se by spiritual warfare, but I do think that this crisis is certainly an occasion for spiritual warfare. So it isn’t to say that this is the devil who is inhabiting rogue viruses, but it is to say that in the midst of this pandemic, certainly the devil is at work.
Now if I were a doctor or I were heading up the CDC or a pharmaceutical company, my job would be to find a vaccine, to make more tests, to study the epidemiology… We’re thankful for all of these experts. But my role as a pastor is not to try to pretend to pontificate as a scientist, but to try to explain God’s Word to you.
And so, no, the answer is not going to be that we just pray and we just pray and then vaccines appear. No, it’s sort of like in Nehemiah, they prayed and the soldiers grabbed a sword to guard their place on the wall. We believe that we rely on God and we rely on God as He works in us. But as a preacher and a pastor, I am very keen and eager to remind you that there is much more going on in the world than what we see on the news or read umpteen times a day on our social media feed.
There are really, there’s two ditches, I suppose. On the one hand, that in times like this to preach sermons it would be wrong to pretend that nothing unusual or frightening is going on in the world and we just ignore all of this and pretend nothing is happening out there. That would be one danger. But there is another danger and that is to make every waking moment of your lives, and even when you show up for church, such as it is online, that you would hear nothing but this Corona virus. Some of us can’t get enough information about it, and some of us are already getting tired of hearing about it.
So, yes, this is going to, I hope, have an application for us in these tumultuous and turbulent times, and yet one of the things that I hope will be reminded for us in focusing her on Ephesians chapter 6 is that there are realities much deeper, much more important, than any virus at work in the world today. And the most important reality is God. The story that is being written in the world is not the story of a virus and how God might have something to do with it or be able to oversee it or redeem it; that’s not the story. The story is still God’s story, God is still on the throne, He is the One writing the story, the One who has planned the story, and all of this plays a part in His story. The main actor in the world right now is still and always has been and always will be God.
And so a passage like this reminds us. It also reminds us that even a God is at work, there is an enemy who is at work.
So we’re going to work our way through these 11 verses in four sermons over these two weeks, and that may seem like a slow pace, even for 11 verses, but you can be thankful then that we’re not following Martyn Lloyd-Jones in this respect, who preached 26 sermons on verses 10 through 13 alone, and you can be assured this short series will be much less involved than William Gurnall’s classic 17th century work The Christian in Complete Armor, which I highly recommend. It’s an exposition of these 11 verses and it only runs to 1200 pages. So have time on your hands, you can pick up that.
A slightly more digestible book, you probably can’t see this, but Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by the Puritan Thomas Brooks. We have this in our book table here at the church. Of course, you’re not here, but you can find this numerous places online. It may or may not look like this, but this is a great work on biblical spiritual warfare, the sort of heart work we do, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.
Our text this morning, then, is from Ephesians chapter 6, and we’re going to look just at verses 10 and 11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
The command overarching this sermon in these two verses is found at the very beginning there in verse 10, “Be strong.” You may immediately think of Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged. Do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Most of us don’t feel like fighters. Many of us in these days are just wondering what we ought to do or how to stay put. And so sometimes we need a little fighting spirit. You may feel particularly weak. Pastor Bernie mentioned an illness going through our family. Nothing respiratory, nothing scary, but a stomach bug and so we have felt very weak.
But notice that the strength here is not just a call to sort of muster up your own human courage, nothing of the sort. It says “be strong in the Lord,” verse 10, and in the strength of whose might? Not your might, His might.
Same words that are used in Ephesians 1:19 where Paul talks about the incomparably great power that God has for us who believe. It’s the same power by which He caused Jesus Christ to be raised from the dead. That’s the power of His mighty strength. We are not told to muster up our own reserves of courage, we are told be strong in the Lord, in the strength of His might. We depend upon Him. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to rely on someone else stronger than yourself. And in this case, and in every case, we rely on God.
Now, we see in verse 10, we are to be strong in the Lord. Now that construction may be passive, “in the Lord,” but that doesn’t mean that we have to be passive. Dependence is not the same as inactivity. We are called in Christ to stand strong, to wrestle, to get dressed, that is to put on the armor of God, and to pray, that’s what we want to look at in these four sermons.
And I want to focus this morning on two words which unpack this command to be strong, this call to be strong in the Lord. There are two words I want us to underline.
The first word is “stand.” Now here I hope you have your Bible so you can look at this because I think there’s a deliberate contrast in Ephesians. Up to this point, we have been doing a lot of walking in Ephesians.
So turn back to chapter 4, verse 1: “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Then over chapter 4, verse 17: ” I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.”
Chapter 5, verse 2: ” And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.”
Chapter 5, verse 8: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
Chapter 5, verse 15: “Look carefully then how you walk.”
So we have been doing a lot of walking, “don’t walk in darkness, walk in the light, walk like Christ, walk this way,” and now after all of those commands to walk, we are given a repeated command to stand.
Verse 11, chapter 6: “That you may be able to stand.”
Verse 13: “Therefore take up the while armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and done all, to stand firm.”
And then in verse 14: “Stand therefore.”
Stand is how we fight. Walk is how we live.
So the first thing we need to remember right off the bat, there’s a battle raging, we’re in the middle of it, there are so many important truths conveyed in Ephesians we can overlook that the climax of the book here in chapter 6, perhaps the overarching theme, is a call upon the believers in Ephesus to fight in this spiritual war.
Now I don’t know anything firsthand about war. Some of you do, or have had grandparents or have had perhaps children who are now serving in the Armed Forces, so what, what I know, sorry to say, comes from movies, but I think of those scenes that you have in a movie like Braveheart or Gettysburg, sort of older style of warfare where they have their ranks, and the commanding officer calls everyone to hold their line, stand their ground, and it’s imperative at that moment. They’re not calling a bayonet charge, they’re not rushing forward upon horseback, but the heat of the battle requires them to not move. Because if you start to depart, then there’s a gap in your line. And so the most courageous thing you do in those moments is to stand your ground. Don’t break ranks. Hold your lines, men.
Isn’t it, isn’t it fascinating how quickly Paul changes from home fires to Hell fires? I don’t mean that in a cheeky sort of way.
Look at Ephesians chapter 6, right before this he’s talking about children and parents, chapter 5 wives and husbands, then servants and masters. He’s talking about here’s how you conduct yourself in the household, and then quickly he goes to this spiritual battle. One minute we’re looking at the practical, nitty gritty life in the home, and the next we struggle against the devil and his minions, and I, I think that the juxtaposition is intentional. And perhaps it’s a very good reminder for all of us who are spending lots of time in the home. There is something of cosmic significance happening in your home, and how husbands and wives love one another. How children and parents love and treat one another. How we relate to each other.
Don’t think there is nothing of eternal cosmic significance going on in your house this week. Paul moves seamlessly from those seemingly mundane details, you gotta live in a household, to the heights, pulling back the curtain as it were. This is what’s happening in your home: Spiritual warfare. There’s a call to battle and we need strength and we need to stand, to fight, to finish, to hold our ground.
Now just think a little bit more about this word “stand.” I think it’s significant that our call in this most pronounced section in Paul’s letters about spiritual warfare is not to go hunting demons or binding them. I absolutely believe the Bible and believe that the exorcisms in the Gospels took place. I believe these same things can happen today. It’s striking, however, that Paul never instructs his churches on how they are to go about an exorcism ministry, or binding territorial demons. Apparently he did not consider that a normal part of church life. In fact, when he comes here to talk about spiritual warfare, the picture is not some obviously ghoulish, head-spinning kind of demonic warfare, but rather it’s the very prosaic but cosmically significant events that take place every day in your home and in your life as a Christian.
Think about it a little deeper. We are not called to go out and defeat the devil. Why? Because Jesus already did that. John 16 tells us that the cross is his defeat. We are called, I think it’s significant then, to resist, to fight, to stand. Yes, there’s a battle going on, but we’re not called upon to go conquer the devil. That’s Christ’s work, accomplished on the cross, now standing in His completed work on the behalf of His people, we have to stand our ground.
Think about Matthew 16: “On this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
Perhaps you’ve thought or you’ve heard it said before, “Well, isn’t it strange that Jesus would talk about the gates of Hell not prevail against it, and gates of Hell are defensive and therefore He envisions, doesn’t He, that our work is to storm the gates of Hell and to break down the barricades and go defeat the devil on his own terms, in his own lair, gates just sit there and we’re to go storm the devil’s castle.”
But that’s sort of fantastical reading of Matthew 16, grossly misunderstands what this Jewish expression is about. The gates of Hell, or the gates of Hades, is taken right from the Old Testament. It’s the same construction in the Greek, if you look it up in the Septuagint. Isaiah 38:10, Hezekiah the king thinks he’s going to die, he says “In the prime of my life, must I go through the gates of Hades and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
Job says something similar. The gates of Hades do not refer to Hell as a place that we storm, but they refer to death.
What Jesus is talking about in Matthew 16 is this bold, hope-filled promise that if you make the confession like Peter did, and you belong to the Church, then you cannot be overcome even by the gates of Hades, that is even death shall not have mastery over you. That’s the promise that Jesus makes.
We are never told to go out attack and kill and capture demons, like some Carmen music video. You can go Google that later, not now.
Do you know what we are told to attack? The flesh. Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
So we’re told to fight against the flesh, stand ground against the devil.
Now, of course, to use the language of fight is everywhere in this passage, and we’re going to talk tonight, Lord willing, about wrestling. So there’s very active verbs, not trying to be the language police, but it is important to realize the sort of battle we are engaged in. It is one of standing in the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We want to learn how to put on the Lord’s armor so that when the day or the hour or the second of evil comes, we may be able to stand our ground in the strength of His might.
In this letter to the Ephesians, we hear about peace through Christ, about peace with God, about peace with each other through the reconciliation of the cross, but interestingly there is no promise of peace from the onslaught of the devil. We’re not promised that when you come to Christ, though you have peace with God, that we have peace with one another, that the devil is then going to be peace with us. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, that when we raise the flag to say I’m on Team Jesus and I belong to Christ, and I’m going to stand for Christ, you make yourself a bigger target.
If you are a Christian, you must count on continuing conflict with evil and a relentless struggle against the evil one. There will be no cessation of his hostilities in this life. And we must be prepared to fight and be strong and to stand.
As we’re, many of us having greatly disrupted schedules, spending lots of time quarantined, perhaps indoors, we’ve at least had nice weather here and kids have been able to be outside, but it’s, it’s tempting, isn’t it, to think that we sort of have an excuse maybe to sin. Maybe just little sorts of sins, to let our guard down.
I read somebody say this week, I don’t know if it’s true or how you measure it, but that, you know, pornographic searches and websites are just at an all-time high. It certainly wouldn’t surprise us, would it? And even if that’s not the particular sin struggle for you, isn’t it the case that we think because we are in these difficult and unprecedented times that may we sort of have an out for anger? It’s kind of an excuse. Or to just let our guard down. That’s what the devil would want us to think, that there are too many other things to be thinking about, to worry about your own soul in these moments.
But listen, there is still a fight, and it’s still a fight that with the Lord Jesus Christ at our side we can win against the devil.
It may seem like the world has changed in two weeks, but the most important realities have not changed. There is a God, there is a devil, and there is a conflict. And those who have forgiveness in Christ, have been chosen in Christ, adopted in Christ, redeemed in Christ, have strength in Christ. There is opposition from the evil one, but there is strength.
Greater is He that is in you, Christian, than the one that is in the world.
The schemes of the devil have not changed and our call to stand has not changed.
So the first word for us to look at is this word “stand.”
And then the second word, I just mentioned it, is the word “schemes.”
You see in verse 11, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
The devil is a sneaky being, a created being. He avoids direct assaults usually. He prefers trickery, deceit, misdirection. At 6:00 tonight we’ll come back to the devil and how he works, but just notice this word here and what it says about our enemy. He’s a schemer. You think of the snake in the Garden of Eden. He doesn’t come with a direct assault, he doesn’t tell Adam and Eve “you cannot trust God, don’t believe Him, worship me!” Rather he sows seeds of doubt, he asks questions.
We read in 2 Timothy 2:26 of the snares of the devil.
John 8:44 he’s called a father of lies.
2 Corinthians 11:14: He masquerades as an angel of light.
2 Corinthians 4:4: He blinds the minds of the unbelievers.
Do you hear the language there? Snares, traps, masquerade, deception.
King James Version uses the word “wiles,” or some would say strategies. What is the devil’s strategy? What are his wiles, his schemes?
In one sense, it’s quite simple. Ultimately, the devil wants you and I to join him in his rebellion against God. He hates God. He hates all that God is, all the light in which God dwells. He hates everything that is holy, everything that is pure, everything in Christ he hates and he wants to make traitors out of us. He wants us to give up the fight, side with the enemy, turn from God’s way, turn to his ways. The devil hates all of your blessings in Christ. He hates all the power you have in Christ. He hates all the grace you have in Christ. He hates the unity that we have in the church in Christ. He hates the gospel of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ. He hates holiness in Christ. He hates everything in this letter that Paul has been talking about. That’s his strategy.
But we can be more specific. How does the devil try to deceive us? What is his camouflage? What is his bait? What are his wiles?
Well, as we come to a close here, let’s just look at quickly at four or five of these schemes as we see them in the rest of Paul’s letters and then one from Hebrews. So just notice some of these that are explicitly mentioned as the devil’s schemes and see which one of these may be especially relevant for you.
Turn to Ephesians chapter 4, verse 26. Here’s one of his schemes: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, give no opportunity to the devil.”
There’s one of the wiles, the schemes, of the devil, is to lay a snare for your feet with anger. Be angry and do not sin, so there’s a way to be righteously angry, though many of us most of the time don’t inhabit that. We have the sinful sort of anger. And when you’re angry it feels right, it feels good, we give words like just letting off steam, it’s just pressure, you just have to get out. And the devil wants us to go to sleep on our anger, upset with our parents just stewing on how they’ve wronged us, angry with our kids, frustrated with their antics or their disobedience, a cold chill in the air with husband and wife… He wants us to sleep on our anger because when he can get that anger to perpetuate, not just moments but days and weeks and months, he’s got a foothold.
And at first you don’t notice somebody grabs you and you still try to move along in the right direction but over time, as he grabs hold of you with that anger, he pulls you and lurches you and gets you going in his direction instead of God’s direction.
There’s one of his wiles. Anger.
Look at another one. 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 11. And it’s related actually to this scheme of anger. Verse 10, we’ll start, 2 Corinthians 2, ” Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”
So there’s another example of his designs, his schemes, gracelessness. You see the connection there with anger? If he can get you angry, he can get you bitter, here his scheme is if he can get you graceless. Instead of forgiving as Christ forgave you, you keep a detailed record of wrongs. You keep a list.
I heard a story one time of a couple being counseled and at one point in the counseling session, I forget if it was the husband or the wife, literally had a notebook recorded with the spouse’s infractions over months and years, literally had kept a record of wrongs just to prove to the counselor that what he or she was saying was true and accurate, had happened.
The devil gets that sort of graceless spirit in us, he’s got a foothold, he’s got a design. We’ve stepped into his trap, to make us unforgiving and then unbelieving, and when as we are unbelieving, we doubt the goodness of God and he makes us bitter, shallow, hollow people. We then hate brothers and sisters, we enjoy sin more than obedience. Those are the devil’s schemes, to poison our witness, poison the air, poison your own soul.
And they’re related to these. Here’s another one. 1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 6, giving instructions for overseers, for elders, he said, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
So there again is a trap that the devil lays for you, in self-conceit, in the sort of pride that leads you to feel confident in your own supposed righteousness, the sort of pride that comes before a fall, the disgrace of verse 7 from the pride of verse 6.
Look over to the next chapter, 1 Timothy 4, verse 1: “The Spirit says in the later times some will depart from the faith, devoting themselves to deceitful spirits, teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage, require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, nothing is to be rejected it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.”
He’s talking here about a hypocritical self-righteousness, a kind of asceticism, and in this case it was an asceticism from sexual activity in its proper sphere in marriage between a man and a woman, and foods which God had declared good.
Verse 2 references the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared. They’re doing the work of deceitful spirits and promulgating the teaching of demons. These are people who are putting down burdens upon others, perhaps burdens that they themselves are not willing to bear, and they have convinced themselves that they have a holiness that is unmatched, even though they are not really attempting to walk the walk and have their walk match their talk. That, too, is a snare, when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re not like other people, that you don’t have the same struggles as other people, that a pastor doesn’t sin like other people. You have stepped into the devil’s snare.
And then just one more. Go to Hebrews, chapter 2, verse 14. Hebrews 2:14: ” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” and listen to this, ” deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
That is the ultimate scheme of the devil. The devil has won a victory if he can get you to fear death more than you fear God. Fear is his power.
Now don’t read into this that we shouldn’t have any reason to take precautions in these times. Of course we do. There’s a normal human kind of what’s going to happen tomorrow and are we going to be okay, so I’m not putting that sort of fear as a blanket category of every emotion of wondering about the future you may have.
But in particular, there is a demonic fear, and it is the power by which he enslaves people. And it’s the fear of death.
Christ came to set us free, to show that in His death and resurrection, death has been defeated. So what we have to fear more than anything else we no longer have to fear, because the grave could not hold the Lord Jesus.
And so the bondage that comes from the fear of death is what Christ came to set us free. He says don’t fall for the devil’s schemes. Don’t set your foot into that trap. Christ came to set you free from that, and so we can see what standing against the devil is going to require, and why we will come to the armor of God, why we need faith and truth and righteousness and the peace of the Gospel and hope. That’s what we need; not some ghost-busting pack to fight demons in every lair, but we need faith and the promise of God and we need the truth of God’s Word and we need the hope of the gospel, if we are to be set free from these snares of the devil.
So where do you have to stand your ground this week? Where is Christ your captain? A sympathetic high priest, One who is exalted in heaven, a human being, a God-man, still clothed in human flesh, still fully God and fully man. So where is Christ your captain calling you to stand your ground? Where you’re ready to break ranks and you’re ready to flee, you’re ready to retreat? Is it your anger? Gracelessness? Your pride? Your self-righteousness? Perhaps your fear.
God has more power at your disposal than you realize.
I’ve always loved Romans 16:20. We’ll come back to it in just a moment for the benediction. It’s such a fitting reminder for this sermon and this whole series: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
Of course, if you know, you know your Bible, you recall Genesis 3:15 that first telling of the evangel of the Gospel is that one will come born from woman who will crush the head of the serpent, and so now we read that we can claim that work that Christ has done on our behalf. The God of peace is going to crush Satan under your feet. Christ has done it, and you will see it soon. By His strength, we, too, can stand in the strength of His might, and whatever you face this week, there is power to step on and crush the nasty head of that ancient serpent.
Let’s pray. Our loving heavenly Father, we pray for the strength of Your might that we might stand this week to be strong, and withstand the schemes and the cunning of our enemy. Keep us steadfast, as Your people, soldiers in Your army, children in Your family, and may we know the love and the power and the grace of the Lord Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.